Another guest blog today from Callum Gaunt, 15, who gives his take on the final match of the season. Interested in writing for us as well? Drop us a line!
We all believed. Every single Wanderer that travelled to the Britannia with the intention of witnessing ‘The Great Escape’ believed we could do it. And the harsh reality is, we were only 13 or so minutes away from completing that seemingly unlikely climb out of the bottom 3.
As I stepped onto the train with a few mates and a ticket that read “Bolton -> Stoke-on-Trent” at 11.54am on Sunday morning, butterflies were running riot in my stomach. The excitement a 7-year-old would endure on Christmas morning was the kind of emotion I was riddled with, as I anticipated what was in store for the Bolton faithful in the coming hours. The atmosphere was electric amongst the travelling supporters. Chanting non-stop everywhere we went, the Stoke fans knew they weren’t going to roll us over as easily as they did at Wembley (the less said about that day, the better).
We knew we had to win. We also knew QPR had to lose away at Manchester City, who were relishing the opportunity to snatch the Premier League crown from their fierce rivals Man United. And boy, didn’t they make hard work of it?!
3,500 Bolton fans had made their way into a packed out away end at the Britannia Stadium. We soon realised everyone was trying to access the internet on their phones, causing the web to freeze as we all attempted to keep tabs on the score from the Etihad. We were reliant on messages from friends and family informing us of the all important score, in my opinion this only added to the excitement.
But 10 minutes after our own game kicked off, some die hard Wanderers were already in tears, making the City score irrelevant for the time being. Arguably the biggest howler referee Chris Foy has ever made, allowed Stoke forward Jon Walters to bundle the ball AND ‘Whites’ keeper Adam Bogdan into the back of the net and ‘score a goal‘. Reminiscent of the Lofthouse goal against United in the ‘58 Cup Final it may have been, but times have changed since then and the games rules have changed with them. We were all left in a state of disbelief that the goal had been given, our ginger stopper had blatantly held the ball in two hands before being bundled over the line. Owen Coyle was understandably infuriated, along with us travelling fans who were already thinking it might not be our day.
But then we were suddenly back in it! A Stoke defender went for a typical ‘smash and grab’ clearance, which rocketed back off Mark Davies’ shin and ended up crashing into the back of the net. The away end erupted into a sea of bouncing white shirts, the belief had been reinstilled. Immediately followed by the news QPR were behind at City, it was well and truly game on. And if you didn’t think it was? You did 3 minutes later. Kevin Davies this time, put what looked like a dreadful cross (but we’ll let him have the benefit of the doubt) right between the post and the keepers’ hand and again, into the back of the Stoke City net. It was 2-1 to the Wanderers and for all the world it looked like we were going to remain a Premier League side. Trotters fans were crying again, but this time the tears were of a different nature.
Half time was ecstatic on the concourse. As it stood, Bolton were in 17th, 1pt clear of relegation. Drinks were spraying all over the place and the atmosphere was something I had never witnessed amongst the Bolton fans before. It was testament to how passionate we really are as a group of supporters.
When the second half kicked off the 3,500 attendees from Bolton were in full voice, well and truly acting as the 12th man. But then came devastating news that silenced the Wanderers faithful. QPR had equalised at City. For the second time in the game, some Trotters fans had their hands on their heads, others clasped their hands into a sign of prayer. The league table said Bolton were going down, and we only had half an hour for that to change. I can only think the sudden outbreak of silence had transferred to the Bolton players on the pitch. They knew something had happened in Manchester, and it wasn’t good.
It was soon to be 2-1 against Manchester City. QPR had sprouted an unbelievable comeback with only 10 men (after Joey Barton predictably saw red for violent conduct, then proceeded to pick a fight with anyone who opposed him). For our beloved Trotters however it seemed all over. The tears of joy had turned to those of sadness and despair, the fans no longer believed we were going to survive. It was evident we were going to swap Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge for the likes of The Valley and Portman Road in the Championship. We were going down, or at least from the atmosphere you would have certainly thought so. If the result had remained 2-1 to QPR no Wanderer could have complained they didn’t deserve to stay up. But what was to follow was sheer madness.
Stoke had been pressing in our half for a while, and finally they had their moment. Peter Crouch had been brought down by Adam Bogdan in the area, it was a penalty. Soft? Perhaps, but a penalty was given nonetheless. Jon Walters was about to step up and surely, SURELY send Bolton down. A draw wasn’t good enough, although neither was a win if QPR held on to beat City. Walters coolly dispatched the spot kick and it was the Stoke fans’ turn to have some fun.
I think we were just about coming to terms with the fact we were 2 minutes from Championship football, when a small ripple of cheers echoed around the Bolton end. It was the 92nd minute, and it was 2-2 at the Etihad, Dzeko had scored for City. Still not enough for ourselves just yet, but we were one step closer to safety. Should we score a goal, and Man City do the same in the remaining minute of both matches, we‘d stay up, and City would claim the title. The tension was unbearable.
We didn’t think much of it at the time, but Tim Ream’s header was inches from finding the net with what was the last touch of the game. Our game finished 2-2, we were down regardless of QPR‘s result. Some voices vented their fury and disappointment towards the manager and players, others applauded their valiant efforts, giving us an exciting spectacle regardless of the result (I was the latter). I cried, I’m not ashamed to say. I’m passionate about the club, and haven’t been alive long enough to have supported Bolton when they were back in the old 2nd, 3rd and 4th divisions. To me, they’ve always been a Premier League side, and I liked it that way. News came through that City had grabbed a winner and the Premier League title in the 94th minute, meaning had Ream’s header made it 3-2 to Bolton, we would have actually stayed up. Sickening, I know.
Sometimes it’s just not to be, and unfortunately we can’t blame our relegation on Chris Foy’s dubious decision to allow Stoke’s first goal, as easy as that is to do. We haven’t performed all season, FACT. And on the grand scale of things, we probably deserved to go down along with Blackburn and Wolves. We’ve had a horrendous season, and anybody who begs to differ has been watching the season pan out through rose tinted spectacles.
It’s hard to take. Horrible to watch, and I’m sure changes will be made to the players and club in general over the summer. Bouncing back up into the Premier League is now essential. Newcastle did it, and West Ham look like they might do it. Perhaps we can join them in the “bouncing back from relegation” category, let‘s hope so.
For me, Coyle should stay. He’s young, relatively inexperienced and going down was always a possibility under the guidance of a man who had no previous Premier League management other than 20 or so games with Burnley (whom he had taken up from the Championship, remember!). Those are both reasons why we should stick by our manager, and I really hope we do. He has as good a chance as anyone of guiding us back amongst the big time. Players are inevitably going to leave and I’m sure the speculation regarding transfers will start almost immediately, so he will have to make sure he has suitable replacements lined up for the players who are to leave (should he stay himself of course).
In a way, after 64 hours of moping around feeling sorry for myself and my beloved club I’m kind of looking forward to a new challenge. And who knows, we could even manage to win a league title next season! This is the mighty Wanderers we’re talking about, after all.